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What not to Say in your Entry-Level Interview

Please note: All of my interview experience is in the tech industry. I've tried to keep this article as universal as possible but there are some career fields where this information may not apply.


The first few interviews in your desired career field can feel like live-action shark tank. I mean you might be the kind of badass that struts into an interview room, slams down your resume, and doesn't leave until the job is yours but this post is for the average human who fears rejection and has mild social anxiety.

In my short five year career I've been an interviewer in over forty interviews. It started as a part of my job as a team lead but after a handful of rough interviews I began to conduct mock interviews as a volunteer to dissuade people from making the same mistakes. At this point I've been on the receiving end of a handful of kick-ass interviews and, unfortunately quite a few sub-par ones. Throughout these interviews there have been a few recurrent "deal-breaker" mistakes that interviewees have made which I've catalogued below.


The Big Mistakes

Being unable to explain your resume

Your resume is your calling card. It's everyone's first impression of you when you're interviewing for a new job and there is a high chance your employer is going to have questions based on the things they see. (It should go without saying but this is also why should never write "detailed oriented" rather than "detail oriented"...yes...it's happened).

I interviewed a man once who had a three year gap between jobs. When asked why the gap existed the answer was an unconvincing "well, I was let go...then...well you know". To be clear, he did not get the job. When I was interviewing for my first job I was questioned about my lower than average GPA (2.6) and my answer was "Umm I don't know really." To be clear, I also did not get the job.

The problem in both of these scenarios is not that we had red flags on our resumes but that we could not explain why we had them. Look critically at your resume, then have a friend look critically at your resume. Is there anything that seems questionable to you, and can you explain it?


Being too humble

Your interview is not the time for humility. It's the time to show off just how great you are and how lucky that potential company would be to hire you. When you lack confidence in an interview you give the employer doubts about hiring you. I mean...if you're not sure why you're awesome why should they think you are?

Typically this "humility" rears its ugly head when the interviewee is asked about strengths or accomplishments. On multiple occasions I've heard interviewees add a "but" or "we" to their response. For example, "During my time at the company I increased recurring revenue by 15%...but it was really my team that got me through", or "We were able to up our automation coverage exponentially while I was at the company!"

When you're talking about yourself forget everyone else, just talk about how amazing you are as an individual. There will be plenty of time for humility once you're hired.

(There is a caveat here though in that you can also lack all humility and be too full of yourself. I've been in both places. To avoid going to far in the opposite direction of humility just remember to respect those in the room with you. Don't act like you are better or more qualified than those who are conducting your interview and don't act like the role is beneath you but you'll throw the company a bone and take it. Trust me, they have more options than you and if you're a d-bag in your interview they'll choose someone else.)

Burning bridges before they've been built

As a software tester I once participated in a career fair at my Alma Mater. We had two entry-level positions for which we were hiring, both on the services side of the organization. A student came up to speak with us about his goal of working as a Product Manager at our company (a position that typically requires about five years of experience). We applauded his goal and recommended our available positions as potential stepping stones to his dream job.

He looked at the paper, sighed and said something to the effect of "These positions are much lower than what I'm qualified for so I think I'll keep looking." As he waltzed away from our booth the recruiter busted out laughing. The irony was that both the recruiter and I would conducting two out of his three interviews if he were to ever apply to our organization. Before he'd even interviewed at our company he'd made a bad a impression on two of the people who would have a say in his future.

When you are interviewing at a company you have no idea who the decision-makers are at that organization. The woman you bump into in the restroom could be your peer-interviewer; the man you were joking with in the lobby could be the recruiter; the person you cut to get coffee in the kitchen could be the CFO. From the second you step across the threshold of an organization you should treat every human as though they have your fate in their hands.


In short...

For an entry-level position your employer is really avoiding three things:

  1. Résumé Red Flags

  2. Insecurity

  3. Assholes

If you can avoid these three pitfalls you'll do great. Best of luck!

Are you about to interview for your first job? If so, what are you most afraid of? What do you think you'll nail?


If you interview people for jobs, what are some of the biggest mistakes you've seen?

Next up: What your Entry-Level Interviewer wants to Hear

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